State Appropriation of Traditional Actors and Oral Narratives in Timor-Leste


  • Lúcio Sousa Department of Social Sciences and Management, Universidade Aberta



Nation Building, Oral Tradition, Peacebuilding, Political Legitimacy, Timor-Leste


In Timor-Leste, the lia na`in (lian = word; na`in = lord, master) – leaders of customary practice – are becoming key to tradition, to “kultura” (culture), an emerging area of public cultural policies. Traditionally associated with the local communities and the mountains, they are the ones that know and pronounce the words that uncover the origin of the world, and the relationship between mankind, nature, and ancestors. Since 20 May 2002, when political power was handed from the United Nations to the Timorese authorities, several episodes have illustrated that the involvement of the lia na`in has shifted from their traditional local contexts to national ones. From small-scale sociopolitical agents, the lia na`in became a resource as buffers of conflict or of reconciliation, as council members of the suco, the smallest administrative division, and as actors in national state ceremonies, taking part in the process of (re)creating the nation’s cultural identity. The purpose of this article is to discuss the role assigned to lia na`in in state affairs and the nation, particularly the role concerning conflict resolution. The argument, I propose, is that the participation of the lia na`in, as a ritual authority, in state-sponsored ceremonies has become a major resource of credibility to the new national authorities.

Author Biography

Lúcio Sousa, Department of Social Sciences and Management, Universidade Aberta

Lúcio Sousa is professor of anthropology at the Department of Social Sciences and Management at Universidade Aberta, Portugal, and a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Literature and Tradition (IELT-FCSH-UNL).


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